Those who get UTIs may notice that they receive them more often when sexually active, which can lead many to place blame on the condom. For some condoms, this blame is rightly placed, but for others, it isn’t.
Getting to the root of the problem, condoms do not cause UTIs. UTIs result when bacteria enter the urethra. However, particular condoms, such as spermicidal condoms, aid bacteria, which can increase the risk of infection.
What Are UTIs?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria infect any part of your urinary system, including the urethra, bladder, or kidneys. Most UTIs, however, involve an infection of the bladder.
Those with a UTI often experience symptoms of pain when urinating or pain in the side or lower back (where the kidneys are). Sometimes UTIs can also make someone feel as though they need to urinate often.
Can You Get a UTI From a Condom?
Condoms do not cause UTIs; UTIs occur when bacteria infect the urethra. However, there is a certain addition to some condoms that can increase the likelihood of developing UTIs, and that is spermicide.
Spermicide is sometimes added to condoms as an extra preventative for pregnancy, but it also helps to facilitate the growth of E. coli, which is the most common bacteria to cause UTIs. E. coli typically hang out around the anus, but when having sex, the E. coli can travel to the vagina.
Spermicide enhances the ability of E. coli to adhere to the epithelial cells in your vagina. Your vagina is then very close to the urethra, making it easy for E. coli to enter the urethra the next time that you have sex. This is because sexual activity causes the body to produce vaginal fluids to make things more comfortable, but these vaginal fluids then make it easy for the E. coli that were located in the vagina to travel to and infect the urethra, causing a UTI.
Not only does spermicide support E. coli, but its active ingredient (Nonoxynol-9) also suppresses the good bacteria in your vagina, which play an essential role in protecting the vagina from bacterial infection. Suppressing these bacteria makes it easier for E. coli to thrive in the vagina before passing into the urethra.
Multiple studies have shown the increased risk of UTIs with spermicide-coated condoms, with one study reporting that spermicide-coated condoms cause 42% of UTI cases in a group of young women.
Not only that, but the more often you use a condom coated in spermicide, the greater your risk of UTI. For example, using a spermicide-coated condom 5 times within 2 weeks increases your UTI risk by five.
So, condoms themselves do not cause UTIs; that blame lies on bacteria infecting the urethra. However, spermicide-coated condoms do increase the risk of UTIs, so if you commonly experience UTIs, it may be time to switch condoms.
What Can Cause a UTI?
UTIs are usually caused by bacteria entering the urethra and traveling through the urinary tract, with E. coli the type of bacteria that most often causes bladder infections.
There are some risk factors for UTIs, such as:
- having sex
- using spermicidal forms of birth control
- having gone through menopause
- blockages in the urinary tract (e.g., kidney stones, enlarged prostate)
- a suppressed immune system
- a recent urinary problem
- catheter use
- receiving oral sex
Can Condoms Prevent UTIs?
Condoms can prevent UTIs since they help prevent bacteria from being transmitted during sex. However, it is crucial to use the correct kind of condom.
Spermicidal condoms should be avoided because of spermicide’s ability to aid harmful bacteria and hinder the good bacteria in the vagina.
It’s also recommended to avoid unlubricated condoms because they can stress vaginal tissues. For those with a latex allergy, latex condoms may aggravate UTIs.
Additionally, flavored condoms and lubes are often infused with sugars that feed bacteria and promote their growth, so they should also be avoided.
How to Prevent UTIs From Sex?
The greatest hygiene habit you can adopt to prevent UTIs from sex is urinating after sex. When having sex, there is an increased risk of introducing bacteria to the urethra. However, by urinating after sex, you flush out the urethra, which helps remove the bacteria from your body.
Another tip is to cleanse the genitals before and after sex with plain, mild soap and warm water. This helps remove any bacteria that may be around the genitals or anus, preventing the chances of it spreading to the urethra.
There are other actions you can take to reduce the risk of UTIs at all times, including:
- drinking lots of water
- urinating often and emptying the bladder fully when you do
- wiping from front to back
- avoiding douches or feminine powders and sprays in the genital area
In addition to the above sanitary measures that can help to prevent UTIs, you can also use a different form of birth control than a spermicide-coated condom. Using condoms without spermicide or an alternative method of birth control, such as the pill, can help to reduce your risk of developing UTIs after sex.
When to See a Doctor?
Very mild UTIs may go away on their own, but in most cases, a short course of antibiotics is needed to treat the infection. Because of this, you should visit a doctor if you notice the signs of a UTI. If your symptoms are severe, do not improve after a few days, or you experience recurrent UTIs, it is especially important to visit a doctor.
Get Help From an Online Doctor!
An online doctor is a helpful resource for receiving medication for your UTI from the comfort of your home. With DrHouse, you can meet with a doctor in just 15 minutes. After hearing your symptoms, your doctor can prescribe you an antibiotic to treat the infection.
Condoms are the most common barrier method for preventing pregnancy and STDs, making them a staple in the lives of those who are sexually active. However, some types of condoms may increase the risk of UTIs.
While condoms do not cause UTIs, those with a spermicide coating can increase the risk because spermicide promotes the growth of harmful bacteria and inhibits the good bacteria in the vagina. This makes it easier for bad bacteria to grow and then infect the urethra, causing a UTI. Flavored condoms and lube are also full of sugars that can feed harmful bacteria.
The risk of a UTI also increases, in general, when having sex. To combat this, following certain hygiene habits, such as urinating after sex, can help to prevent UTIs. If you develop a UTI, an online doctor provides a convenient way to receive an antibiotic prescription to treat the infection.
- Fihn, S., Boyko, E., Normand, E., Chen, C., Grafton, J., & Hunt, M. et al. (1996). Association between Use of Spermicide-coated Condoms and Escherichia coli Urinary Tract infection in Young Women. American Journal Of Epidemiology, 144(5), 512-520. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a008958
- Al-Badr, A., & Al-Shaikh, G. (2013). Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women : A Review. Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, 13(3), 359-367. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.12816/0003256
- Recurrent Uncomplicated Urinary Tract Infections in Women: AUA/CUA/SUFU Guideline (2022) – American Urological Association. (2022). Retrieved 10 August 2022, from https://www.auanet.org/guidelines/guidelines/recurrent-uti#x14269
- Hooton, T., Fennell, C., Clark, A., & Stamm, W. (1991). Nonoxynol-9: Differential Antibacterial Activity and Enhancement of Bacterial Adherence to Vaginal Epithelial Cells. Journal Of Infectious Diseases, 164(6), 1216-1219. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1093/infdis/164.6.1216
- Foxman, B., Marsh, J., Gillespie, B., Rubin, N., Koopman, J., & Spear, S. (1997). Condom Use and First-Time Urinary Tract Infection. Epidemiology, 8(6), 637. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1097/00001648-199710000-00004
- Flores-Mireles, A., Walker, J., Caparon, M., & Hultgren, S. (2015). Urinary tract infections: epidemiology, mechanisms of infection and treatment options. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 13(5), 269-284. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro3432
DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.